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Bihar elections: Congress set to finalise first list of candidates today

The Congress is expected to finalise its first list of candidates for the upcoming assembly elections in Bihar at a meeting of the party’s central election committee (CEC) on Monday, people familiar with the development said.

After sealing a seat-sharing deal with the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) on Saturday, the Congress is fielding its candidates in 70 constituencies, the highest number of seats it is contesting in the 243-member assembly since 2010.

While the RJD will fight 144 of the total 243 seats, the left parties as part of the opposition ‘mahagathbandhan’ or grand alliance will contest 29 seats.

In the 2010 Bihar assembly polls, the Congress had contested all the 243 seats, but managed to win just four. In 2015, as part of grand alliance, the Congress contested 41 seats and won 27.

Having secured a good bargain, the Congress is not averse to giving tickets to turncoats and outsiders and will go mainly by the winnability factor, a party functionary said.

Congress party’s screening committee chairman Avinash Pande listed a number of factors for the selection of candidates.

“Winnability is going to be the main criteria, then definitely contribution to the party and at the same time loyalty. Those who have worked for the party organisation, they should definitely get the preference,” he said.

Asked about the turncoats, Pande said their selection would largely depend on the recommendations of the state unit, its poll panel (pradesh election committee, or PEC) and the party’s survey team.

“The screening committee will definitely consider their names if forwarded by the state unit and the PEC. Those who have come from other parties have joined only after accepting the leadership and the ideology of the Congress. We have to respect that also. It is not that they are untouchables and the selection will finally be decided on merit by the CEC,” he added.

A screening committee shortlists the party candidates and forwards the list to the CEC for final selection.

Winnability alone was not considered the benchmark for candidate selection in a declaration adopted by the Congress at a brainstorming session (Chintan Shivir) in Jaipur in 2013. A balance was required between loyalty and winnability, it said.

A strong votary of intra-party democracy, Rahul Gandhi, after being appointed as the Congress vice-president in January 2013, had vowed to end certain anomalies in the functioning of the party. But seven years later, the party has made little headway towards achieving the goal.

While the nomination culture in the party is yet to be eliminated, paratroopers (a term loosely used for political turncoats who switch parties at the time of elections) and outsiders continue to win nomination.

The CEC, headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, is expected to clear all the names for the first phase of elections to be held on October 28 and also finalise some candidates for the second phase on November 3. The third and final phase of polling will be held on November 7 while votes will be counted on November 10.

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